Most dangerous scams targeting you exposed

2017-06-06 10:01

Let's be upfront and honest: Scams are common, targeted and persistent.

Sooner or later, you're going to be the target and you might even be caught - but here's your defence against the common methods used to scam you out of your hard earned cash. Many people think that scams are about money - make no mistake - money is the goal, but scams are about belief. The scammer's main task is to get you to believe something, regardless of how small it is, regardless of how mundane it is. That belief builds for the scammer a level of credibility that enables him (or her) to take you for as much as they can get.

So how do scams work?

Lottery scams

They are based on three principles: The hook, pitch and convincer.

Think about the spam emails and SMSes that you get.

"You are entitled to a SARS refund. Please click here to enter your banking details." (Read credit card number).

The lottery win is a popular theme, whether it's a "Microsoft", "Samsung" or "OMO" draw, the hook is designed to pique your interest.

Scammers typically use phishing to target victims. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

But these names are not accidental: Scammers know that by using well-known brands, they can hijack perceived credibility to convince the mark that the scam is genuine.

But it's more than those unsophisticated and transparent hooks that are dangerous. The most dangerous hook is one that gets you to suspend your rational mind.

"Are you a Libra?" is a scam question because whether you answer in the affirmative or negative, the scammer can respond with "I knew it", "There’s no way you could be …" or "So am I."

That establishes a relationship of trust and the mark (victim) becomes more pliable to believe the pitch.

Telesales interactions

Unlike most people, I love aggressive telesales callers because the interaction provides a vision of how to respond effectively to the pitch.

"Hi sir, you know that South Africa has the highest crime rate in the world," a caller recently asserted as he tried to pitch private security services.

READ THIS: Root of crime leads to the door of dirty cops, Mbalula

Now, I've written on crime and accept that crime is high, but the highest in the world is a stretch - even for the most coddled bourgeois individuals.

"Higher than Libya, Yemen or Syria?" I ventured. "What about some African states where people can't even report crime, making accurate statistics all but impossible?" Needless to say, conversations like that don't go well and call centre agents usually give up in frustration. To be fair, outbound call centre agents work under trying conditions, often for commission and ungodly hours, so perhaps it's unfair to test them with philosophical debates about social issues.

But it's different when the pitch is from someone you hold in authority.

Sometime ago I had the misfortune of meeting an orthopaedic specialist following a torn ligament.

Blackmail strategy

Even respected professionals are not above exploiting you. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

In five minutes, he asked about the medical aid limit about 10 times. He asserted that if an operation was not carried out that day, walking would be impossible.

However, a second opinion from a professor argued that in a young person, the body in most cases will heal naturally and recovery could be assisted with physiotherapy.

It turns out that the specialist was playing an old game: Blackmail - do what I want or this bad thing will happen.

It's not unlike Eskom threatening rolling blackouts if the SA taxpayer doesn't write a big (possibly blank) cheque.

The convincer in these cases is the promise of authority and track record.

When you are directed to look at all the other success stories be cautious: Be aware that the scammer will only point to successes and you will likely have no knowledge of the rate of success.

The NPA, for example, boasts about its successful prosecution rate, but neglects to mention the small percentage of cases that actually make it to court. It's easy to boast about slam dunk wins.


Not gone to court

Guilty verdict

Not Guilty







Rape of an Adult





Rape of a Child





Robbery with Aggravating Circumstances





* Sourced from the South African Law Commission

One convincer that works is brilliantly is the Barnum statement, named after circus man PT Barnum who was a clever manipulator from the 19th century.

Barnum statements are general enough so that you feel it speaks to you. In a psychic reading you might described as "an open person, but you're slightly cautious".

That could describe almost anyone, but because you relate to the statement, it becomes an effective convincer that the so-called psychic, palm reader, angel whisperer is genuine.


Typically, the convincer is the nail that makes the scam work because it reinforces the credibility of the pitch.

Think pain tablet or toothpaste ads on TV where they have a character in a white coat telling you about the product. There is no objective evidence of him or her being an expert, yet we are convinced to swallow the lie of the image at face value.

Just because a man dresses up in a fancy costume and tells you about chats he has with an imaginary friends doesn't mean you have to believe him and say "Amen".

Indeed, people are most susceptible to being scammed when they rely on faith through a self-appointed middle man.

In SA, we are familiar with how "prophet" Lethebo Rabaloga sprayed his flock with Doom as a test of faith.

There is an argument that the minor scams committed are harmless, especially where the "greater goal" is ostensibly relief for poor, healthcare for those who cannot afford it, or free education.

But it is harmful because we have a number of examples of belief maleficence in a constellation ranging from theft and fraud to sexual assault in South Africa.

Keep your eyes open, but more importantly, test all information against your rational thinking by asking what agenda people have to be sharing information with you.


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2010-11-21 18:15

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